In 1843, the sloop Joanna was shipwrecked on the beach that would eventually carry its name. On its maiden voyage from Tasmania, the ship was sitting at anchor under the towering cliffs of Cape Otway, sheltering from a strong offshore breeze, when the wind swung onshore out of the southwest. It was driven into the waves, stuck fast, and its bedraggled crew struggled ashore in a wild and empty corner of Australia.
Likewise, the Rip Curl Pro was shipwrecked at Johanna today. After enduring the worst forecast in the event’s history and after surfing four different venues over 11 days of the waiting period, it eventually found itself with no other option but to relocate amongst the sheep farms and pine forests of the Otways. The survivors of this long and arduous contest trudged onto the beach this morning, happy at least that this thing was going to end here today. The Specials Ghost Town drifted across the beach on the PA to the handful of spectators who were outnumbered three to one by the surfers and their entourages.
Taj Burrow walks to the lookout above Johanna and surveys half a dozen banks up and down the beach. When I say “banks”, the whole beach is one deep gutter at present, and the “banks” are the bits that aren’t quite as deep as the other bits. Taj asks which one they’re surfing. I shrug my shoulders and say that his guess is as good as mine. He’s eating a bacon and egg sandwich and the yolk running down his arm. He’s looking to win his fourth event from the last five, and is starting the day with the breakfast of champions.
The quarterfinal between Parko and Bobby Martinez highlights how confusing the ocean is around these parts. Up until that point everyone had surfed a mellow righthander breaking into the deepwater channel. Bobby, however, opted to paddle out to the lefthander across from it, breaking a third of a mile out to sea into a grade five rip. It was hard work out there but there was the occasional epic one. He nailed an eight out there, but what it did was force Parko to play defence and paddle across from the right. The defending champ never looked like winning, picking up his second fifth in a row.
For the first time in a long time, Kelly is the subplot. In the wake of Dane’s heat at Snapper, Taj’s winning run and Owen Wrights testicles, Kelly’s been enjoying some time out of the spotlight. But all Kelly’s best work plays out as a soap opera, and today was no different.
Kelly hobbled down the beach for his first heat, the hairline fracture in his foot and strained ligaments having been diagnosed yesterday. As he walked past his fellow competitors sitting at the foot of the sand dunes, it got noticeably worse. Few believe it’s as bad as it looks, and one of them quips he should sign up for the Italian soccer team.
There were few signs of his broken foot slowing up his surfing once he hit the water. He finds a rhythm in the righthand rip bowls straight away. In fact he should have lost in the quarters against Bede, when, needing a 7.1 to win the heat, Bede landed the biggest air of the day only to inexplicably fall. Once that Sliding Doors moment had passed, Kelly didn’t really look like losing.
Kelly and Mick paddled out for the final and it seemed, for the first half of it anyway, that the object of the exercise was not to win. It was so scrappy that when Mick finally rode out a small wave with a series if uninspiring taps the judges threw a 7.17 at it, simply because they felt that might be as good as it was going to get. Kelly’s next wave was just as white bread, right up to the point where he threw a giant alley-oop, lost both his feet from the board, and somehow rode it out. When Mick gifted him the best wave of the final soon after despite having priority, that was it. Kelly had won his fourth bell, tying the record of the great Mark Richards, not bad for a guy who makes little secret of the fact he doesn’t really like the wave at Bells. It also marked the second time Kelly had won a final surfing with a broken foot, having won in Tahiti back in 2005. He may drop a brick on his other foot before he goes to Brazil.
So with all the talk about the Brave New World on tour, the oldest event on tour was won by the oldest, baldest guy on tour, albeit with an alley-oop Dane would have been proud of. Kelly gave his trophy to the local Wathaurong Aboriginals, and passed the bell around the crowd. He was in form not only in the water, but on the beach as well, laughing and engaging with the handful of friends and punters who’d braved the rain and fog that had settled over the beach as darkness approached. He’s right back into this tour in more ways than one.